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“Oh listen, dear child – become wise; point your life in the right direction” Proverbs 23:19

This was the question the Martin family discussed last Sabbath: what does it mean to point your life in the right direction? I am reminded, when I read this verse, that life is best lived when governed by a compass rather than a clock. Here is what I mean: most of us live harried, frantic, frenetic lives, rushing from one schedule to the next, dashing to beat the clock as we scramble to keep up with the ticking hands of fate.

And yet, as this proverb reminds us, wisdom is an eternal quality, not a temporal one. That is, it is a direction, groove, a way of life that has a grain. To point one’s life in the right direction is to align oneself with the moral arc of the universe.

Now, I know there are many who believe that morality is relative and contextualized, but I’m not quite so sure. Historically, throughout all cultures, religions, and philosophies, there have been certain things that have been against the moral grain (I discussed a few of these  in my previous post, “The Vicious Virtues”). It seems that the moral grain of the universe runs against unchecked self-indulgence no matter what the popular current believes. It seems the moral grain runs against using others as a means to my own end, even when slavery, human trafficking, the exploitation of women and children, etc. have been historically considered a “good” thing. It seems the moral grain runs against violence even while we become ever more adept at it.

Perhaps it’s just evolutionary psychology, or perhaps there is a deeper ontological reality to the moral grain of the universe; whatever the case, it does seem that certain things bring blessing and certain things bring curse, certain things bring life and certain things bring death. Consuming myself to death has consequences, just as consuming our planet to death has consequences. Pursuing narcissistic hedonism without restraint has consequences, as does pursuing pride, power, and profit. Gluttony and sloth both have consequences, as do lust and wrath. In the end, they are all, as Aquinas believed, disordered loves (loves pointed inward towards my own self-indulgence).

These, then, are the questions I ask myself; perhaps they will be of some help to you as well:

Am I pointing my life in the right direction? Am I choosing life and blessing or curse and death? In small ways and large, am in tune with such things as virtue, compassion, and self-control–moral traits that have been lauded across time and across cultures? Am I ultimately living a wise life?

If there is a true North, what does it mean to seek it? Does this decision before me take me closer to it or farther away? Because, as any hiker can tell you, being off even just a few degrees, over the long haul, can take one far away from the intended goal. Am I taking side trails that, while intriguing, may lead to dangerous places? Are the things that offer simple delight threatening the deeper joy I seek? Do I really want to end up far south of my intended goals?

This, then, is the question in the Martin house: what does it mean for us individually and as a family to point our lives in the right direction? What does that mean for me as a husband and father? What does it mean as a friend? As a person of faith? What is the “right direction” for each of the roles I play? How do I safeguard against any deviation, no matter how small, of the moral compass? If, as Sartre suggests, we shape the life we are given, then the direction of our moral compass matters quite a good deal.

Hear again the word of the proverb, and may it point you to blessing:

“Oh listen, dear child – become wise; point your life in the right direction” Proverbs 23:19

 

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